Metal Detectorist Discovers One of England’s Earliest Gold Coins in a Farm Field

The 13th-century gold penny found in southwestern Britain could sell for half a million at auction

bright gold coin in dirt depicting crowned and bearded man
An extremely rare Henry III gold penny discovered in a farm field in England could fetch more than $500,000 at auction this month. Spink & Son

An amateur metal detectorist unearthed a rare medieval gold coin on farmland in Devon, England, reports Sana Noor Haq for CNN Style. Coin experts speculate the 800-year-old Henry III gold penny could sell for around $546,000 at an online auction set for January 23.

Minted around 1257, the nearly one-inch coin depicts the English king, who ruled from 1216 to 1272, sitting on an ornate throne while holding an orb and scepter. It is considered by experts to be one of the earliest gold coins found in England; only seven other coins of this type are known to exist, per Nadeem Badshah of the Times.

The other surviving Henry III gold pennies are at the British Museum in London, Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge and in private collections, reports Alexandra Markovich for the U.S. Sun.

The finder, an ecologist who chose to remain anonymous, didn’t realize the coin was so valuable, but he posted a photo of it on Facebook, where a specialist spotted it. “I just happened to see it there and I got in touch to tell him he had to get it assessed,” Gregory Edmund, an auctioneer at Spink & Son, which is conducting the sale, tells the Times.

Edmund adds that the introduction of gold coins during medieval times “shows the direct influence on daily life of the international trade routes from the gold-rich Middle East and North Africa.”

Opposite side of gold coin featuring cross symbol
Opposite view of gold coin Spink & Son

The ecologist says he was working on a farm field in the town of Hemyock—about 150 miles southwest of London—when his metal detector started pinging, per the Times. He soon realized the significance of his discovery.

“I want to be able to understand more about who I am, and where I have come from. Metal detecting helps me to do this,” he says in a statement. “It has also ultimately saved this magnificent coin from the plough blade. How it has survived three-quarters of a millennium relatively unscathed is truly miraculous.”

According to the Times, around 1240, Henry III proclaimed payments to the crown be made in gold rather than silver to fund foreign wars. The pennies were minted around 1257 by William of Gloucester with gold from North Africa, writes David Carpenter, professor of medieval history at King’s College London, in the Spink & Son’s catalog.

Henry III, also known as Henry of Winchester, became king of England at nine years old after the death of King John in 1216, reported George Nixon of This Is Money in a 2021 article.

Like his father, Henry reissued and signed the Magna Carta, which guaranteed certain legal and property rights, to quell unrest among the English barons. Historians recognize his version of the charter as one of the foundational documents of modern Western democracy.

Auctioneer Spink & Son placed the presale estimate for the coin at $546,000. Last year, another Henry III gold penny sold for $720,000 at an auction in Dallas, Texas, to an unnamed bidder, per This Is Money.

Often, the United Kingdom takes possession of antiquities discovered by civilians, offering them a portion of proceeds from the sale to interested British museums. However, under the Treasure Act of 1996, the finder can keep and sell the artifact if it is not believed to be part of a larger trove of items, reports CNN Style.

The discoverer says he plans to use the money from the auction for his children’s future, per the Times. He is thrilled that he was the one to find the 800-year-old coin and help preserve it.

“Now it is protected for future generations to enjoy and it is truly humbling that I was its finder,” he says in the statement. “Like every hobbyist who continues to dream, my wish that day came true, and I just happened to be the very fortunate one.”